I didn't expect much when I snagged this. I'd listened to the sample, and I found the opening to be serviceable both in writing and in narration. It didn't particularly grip me, but I found the premise interesting, so I grabbed it. I was rather surprised. No, it's not the year's best, and no it won't stun or wow you, but what you have here is an enjoyable listen that's fun and steady.
To me, it's pretty difficult for a book to keep me interested the whole way through. Usually there's one or more parts that slow down to the point that I need to take breaks, but this one remained engaging for me, sitting with just enough adventure and derring do to gloss over the bits that weren't entirely realistic or made me go, "Uh huh, suuuuure." For the most part I saved it for listening to while I was cleaning, and in some parts I was curious enough about what happened next to look for other chores needing doing. Towards the end I gave up the pretense of cleaning altogether, and just sat to finish the hour or two remaining.
There is no overt romance, though there were plenty of hints along the way. There was a dash of politics and a wee bit of angst, a lot of fun dialogue and no big surprises (I was able to guess out the twists). Still, the writing was solid, and the narrator pleasant to listen to. I had fun listening to it, and found it to be a nice break between more serious fantasy books. I enjoyed it.
The setting isn't anything particularly groundbreaking, though there were hints at greater depths that I hope might be poked into during the next few books. Some minor steampunk, crossbows and muskets (though there are still men with swords and daggers avoiding all those bolts and balls in order to commit daring acts of masculinity), magic edging in and an evidently bloody past between the main empire and other countries.
If you're looking for a lighthearted romp that features a few handsome men and a (mostly) bright, intelligent female lead, this could be your cup of tea. As for me, I'm going to be buying the next one in the series, and hope I will remain as intrigued the whole way through.
Here's two things you should probably know before you purchase this book:
Kameron Hurley is a Feminist, capital F, the kind that doesn't want women to be men with breasts. She's the type of person interested in what makes societies what they are, and who puts all of the negativity of strict gender roles into this book, unflinching.
She was very into Middle Eastern religion when she wrote this trilogy, and spent six years beforehand researching war.
Still with me? Good. Kameron Hurley doesn't pull punches. She's interested in writing real people who have real consequences from their actions. If you want a kickass assassin hero who retains the high road after witnessing or being part of bloodshed, or whose sense of honor keeps her above the nitty gritty, who can go live happily ever after when all is said and done: this is the wrong story for you.
If however you're into a fantastically crafted world that sticks your nose down into the blood and gore and tells you to look at it, whose characters are a product of that bloody world, and has a story that continually pounds the characters into the ground? If you want a world that is vast, well thought out (and is continually developed into the next two books), that has BUG TECH and huge sociological and gender equality (no, not just women being oppressed -- in Nasheen it's the men who are most outwardly oppressed) issues due to an unending war? Yeah, this one's for you.
That said, it isn't perfect. It gets slow in some parts and some things don't quite fit together. The plotting wasn't as tight as it could have been, and some of the pacing will feel rushed. A lot of real world parallels can be drawn, and some may find that offensive. The characters aren't nice, and you might find yourself wishing there was a little more give in them. This is the type of book that, if you get invested enough into it, will make you hurt. But, maybe that's a plus. I don't know. What I do know is that despite its flaws, despite the unflinching way it rubs your nose in the dirt, I loved it.
Now, the narrator. I know that some people have complained about her voice because it is naturally on the high side, but after listening to all three books I would honestly not have anyone else. Her ability to put gravel into her voice, to make it sound rough and old and worn out, to put nuances into the characters and the slightest bit of accents: no complaints. I think she was a dang good choice for the role. I know who is speaking almost all of the time without needing to put a name to it, and the way she paces herself and puts emphasis on certain things made the story come to life. Great narrator.
So! Bottom line: If you want a strong female main character whose brutality, mental damage due to said brutality, whose relationship with the other narrating characters is more conflict than not, and whose resolve pushes the story along in a wave of violence: this is a good story for you.
Yes, okay, so I did read all of the available novels before buying this one. It's possible that has colored my opinion. In addition, Khristine Hvam is one of my favorite narrators, so that didn't hurt either. Overall? This is procedural fantasy done in a style close to urban fantasy while being in a setting separate from earth. It is done in a more classic sense where the romance is very, very subtle and developed like a roast: slowly. If you're trying it out only because you like in-your-face romance where everything is built to give the romance somewhere to be, then you WILL NOT like this book. Period.
However, if you like the idea of slowly developing emotional bonds, characters given exquisite attention to detail (imo) who are slowly turned from book to book to give you different perspectives, and a fascinating setting that -- despite the numerous books in this series -- still continues to inspire me, then give this book a try.
No, it is not a technical masterpiece, but it is something that has wormed its way into my warm fuzzies center. While there are plenty of books I admire and love, there is something about this one's characters and setting that turns me into a raving fanatic. I think it's the way the characters are developed. The story is written for the characters, not for the plot or the setting or the romance. While Michelle Sagara pulls out some neat turns here and there, the plot isn't going to astound you, but neither will it ever make you roll your eyes. She is methodical with her pacing, especially in this first book, but later books it does speed up. The characters are what will get you addicted (and the setting, too). Given how easily I found myself sympathizing and identifying with the characters, I am perfectly okay with that.
All of that aside I feel that, despite the fact that similar things have been done before, I felt this was a bit of fresh air in today's saturated fantasy market.
And Khristine Hvam can pretty much do no wrong. But that's just me. I've never had any difficulty distinguishing characters, her pacing is marvelous, and she has a way with accents and tonal/pitch changes that absolutely sucks you in.
There's been a change over the years in what the word 'romance' means. It used to be about emotional boundaries and development, subtly guided with class and technique so that when the culmination of all finally climaxed into a relationship, it felt like you had a big payoff. Nowadays, however, I feel like the emotional development has taken the backseat in favor of a cheaper thrill -- sex.
Poison Study I expected the latter and got the former. I expected to not like it, but the reviews convinced me to give it a shot, and I'm glad I did. This isn't classic literature, but it is a good story that focuses tightly on the main character and how she overcomes all of the obstacles in her way. When the romance arrived I felt it was handled carefully. It didn't pop up and slam you in your face, but neither did it make me roll my eyes or feel that the rest of the novel was contrived to allow protaganist A and hero B to get together for some nooky.
The plot will not leave you breathless, and if you're looking for smut you'll have to look elsewhere, but if you're looking for a solid story with some romance that enhances the subtle flavors of the main plot, this is what you're looking for. It has enough depth to allow it to stand on its own without contrivances to glue it all together, but not so heavy that you'll need all of your brain to keep up. Plus I just liked the idea of a poison tester as a main character.
As for the narrator, she didn't blow my mind with an exceptional reading, but I would class her as quite good. She does accents well, I had minor difficulties distinguishing different characters, and there were a couple whose voices I became attached to. Overall I liked her reading.
I will be purchasing the next books in this series.
None was a favorite. They were serviceable, but. . .eh.
It is written in that slice-of-life fashion in that nothing super huge or dramatic happens in the first book. It is written in a way that indicates that there is a follow-up coming, however not in a way that makes me want to listen to more.
It wasn't that the book was bad, it was that it more or less felt like it sprang from a wacky idea about vampires that didn't have much juice to follow through with it. Rather than being drawn into the characters and their world I was skimmed over it. There is not enough face time with any character to really sympathize. It felt like there was an urban fantasy checklist getting ticked off as the story continued. The saving grace was that there was some snappy dialogue and good wit. This is a book for when you want something light that you don't need to pay attention to at all. There is not much depth to plot, characters, or setting. If you're looking for something light and entertaining, this is it. If you want something with enough substance for a nibble or bite? Look elsewhere.
Middle of the pack. Nothing to set it apart either among the best or worst.
The beginning. Really, that was a fabulous hook. What followed, however, was also memorable in the opposite sense -- it bored me to the point that I wished it would be over already. About 5-6 hours in it picked up again for me.
The main character. She can do raspy very well, and some nice drawls, but there wasn't a lot of character distinction for me. Still though, she has a lovely voice and the audio portion was pleasant.
The author has an issue with repetition. Yes, I know Gin's eyes are grey. I know the detective's eyes are hazel/gold/amber/other colorful and descriptive synonyms. I know Fletcher's son (what's-his-name) has green eyes. You do not need to tell me this every single time you mention someone's eyes. It went from irritating to frustrating to making me feel apathetic every time it was mentioned.
Also, the chemistry between the detective and Gin felt flat and uninspired at parts. I understand this is likely categorized as romance, but if you can't fit in a developing relationship within a book in such a way as to fittingly lead to sex, DON'T TRY. Leave it for the next book.
Overall it was decent enough that I might pick up the next one if nothing better catches my attention, but nothing special to me.
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